143818, that’s the number of results Amazon returned for parenting books and I’m sure this number changes daily. So many experts, so many guides but if you are anything like me, you will still have moments when you wonder whether you are doing the right things as a parent and wishing you had easy answers to parenting dilemmas.
Alas, as your parenting journey continues you start to realise that there are a lot of things you cannot put into theory and that really, it’s all just a matter of common sense and real connections between humans, big and small. The experts tend to treat parenting like a system with flowcharts and decision trees for predicaments whereas the reality is of course not that simple.
The wonderful thing about parenting is that it forces you to always challenge your beliefs, your values and forces you to be open to new perspectives, to always be looking for workable solutions and most importantly to be engaged with your child or children. The true measure of good parenting is not about how intelligent your child is, how good a job they have and not even how quickly they become independent.
The true measure of parenting is having a child that understands and accepts who they are and consequently understands and accepts other people who might be different than them. Every parent wants their children to be successful, to do great and memorable things and whilst these achievements are truly amazing, the motive here can be slightly narcissistic.
Someone once wrote that the world already has a plethora of successful people, what it needs right now are agents of peace, negotiators and change agents. Academic success although admirable is not a measure of any of these things. Our society focuses so much on how well their children do at school and how many qualifications they can achieve, often in the guise of security for our children’s future.
All we have to do is look at the number of graduates that struggle to get work, struggle to achieve success at work and worse of all, the ones that manage to get work, get promoted but are morally and emotionally empty. All we have to do is listen to stories of neglectful behavior from children to parents, verbal abuse and disrespect aimed at elderly parents, all of which begs the question of where parenting could have been done better.
As parents, we should always stand proud when our children have academic success, achieve fame and or fortune, there is always glory in that. Nevertheless, let us not fail to recognize small victories that our children achieve when they become more compassionate, more empathetic, less selfish, more courageous, more principled and all the small things they do to build a better character. Because better character makes better people and better people makes a better world.
These are somethings that I have always found useful in my journey as a parent:
- Listen to your child. Listening starts from way before they are able to talk. Babies have their own way of communicating and fortunately, even though their way of communicating appears to be complex, what they are trying to communicate normally isn’t. Babies cry from discomfort, when in pain or hungry and smiles, laughs and gurgles from contentment and amusement. The challenge is in trying to figure out the source of the discomfort. As the child learns to speak, their verbal communication skills are still minimal and they will still act out when unhappy. Again, as parents we need to understand the non verbal cues and the source of their unhappiness. Older children tend to express themselves better and as parents it is even more important for us to give our children the space to express themselves and to respect the fact that they have their own opinions which might be different from ours.
- Educate them on matters of justice, kindness, love and empathy. When my children were younger, they used to moan and groan when I would use incidents in their lives as educational tools for lessons that I feel they could learn from the event. Now that they are older, they have mastered the art of letting me know how they feel by constantly eyerolling when they feel an “Aesop fables” moment coming on. And I have to say that I have now learnt to choose my moments when trying to hone in any vital lessons so that I can ensure they are receptive. I find that asking questions about their perspectives on the matter usually sets the foundation needed for the lesson to set in. However, the best way to educate is to show rather than tell. Our children look to us to see what we do and subconsciously formulate their values and principles from what they see. My children do not hesitate to call me out on what they see as hypocrisy and these realizations are as vital to my education as it is to theirs.
- Show them that its ok to not be perfect. As parents, we often feel that for our children to respect us and value our opinion, it is important to always be right and impeccable. We often defend ourselves for the sake of this perfection rather than admit our mistakes and failures. As a perfectionist at heart, I found this a hard lesson to learn but it was one that once learnt proved to be the best love in action lessons that I could teach my children and myself.
- Allow them to be their present best. Being our best is not a line in the sand, it is in fact an ever fluid, ever moving target that changes with our circumstances and our state of mind. This is true for adults as well as our children. Sometimes our children will not meet our expectations or their own but as long as they are giving it 100%, we should always commend them for their efforts and perseverance. This can be an invaluable lesson in empathy and self acceptance.
- Trust your gut instincts. At the end of the day, no one knows your child more that you do and sometimes we need to forget what we think is the right thing to do and do the thing that we feel and know deep down is right.
- Lastly, do everything from a place of love. It is goddamn hard to be a parent and anyone who tells you otherwise is not necessarily being honest. This is why it is important to always remember that too much love never killed anyone but self-righteousness, stubbornness and the need to always be right can be the most damaging things we can hold on to as parents.